India to Pak: Speed up release of civilian prisoners, missing defence personnel
India on Thursday called on Pakistan to speedily release and repatriate civilian prisoners and missing defence personnel as the two countries completed the biannual formality of exchanging lists of prisoners in each other’s jails.
New Delhi handed over a list of 271 Pakistani civilian prisoners and 74 fishermen who are in India’s custody. At the same time, Pakistan shared a list of 51 civilian prisoners and 558 fishermen in its custody, who are “Indians or are believed-to-be Indians”, the external affairs ministry said in a statement.
The Indian side called for the “early release and repatriation of civilian prisoners, missing Indian defence personnel and fishermen along with their boats from Pakistan’s custody”.
Though the statement didn’t specify the number of missing defence personnel, the Indian side has said in the past that 54 Indian prisoners of war are believed to be in Pakistani jails.
Pakistan was asked to expedite the release and repatriation of one civilian prisoner and 295 fishermen whose Indian nationality has been confirmed and conveyed to the Pakistani side, the statement said.
Besides, Pakistan was also asked to provide immediate consular access to 194 fishermen and 17 civilian prisoners who are in Pakistan’s custody and are believed to be Indian.
The Indian side requested Pakistan to expedite the grant of visas to members of a medical experts’ team and to facilitate their visit to Pakistan to assess the “mental condition of believed-to-be Indian prisoners of unsound mind” who are being held in different jails.
India further proposed that an early visit of the Joint Judicial Committee should be organised to Pakistan.
The Indian side said it is committed to addressing all humanitarian matters on priority, including those related to prisoners and fishermen in each other’s jails.
“In this context, India has also urged Pakistan to expedite necessary action at its end to confirm the nationality status of 78 Pakistan prisoners, including fishermen, whose repatriation is pending for want of nationality confirmation by Pakistan,” the statement said.
In view of the Covid-19 pandemic, Pakistan was requested to ensure the safety, security and welfare of all Indian and believed-to-be Indian civilian prisoners and fishermen.
The lists of prisoners were exchanged through diplomatic channels simultaneously in New Delhi and Islamabad. This is in keeping with provisions of a 2008 agreement whereby such lists are exchanged on January 1 and July 1 every year.
A majority of the prisoners held on both sides are fishermen who are detained for violating the maritime boundary. Though the two sides had made progress in addressing humanitarian issues related to civilian prisoners, the process was hit by the strain in bilateral ties that followed the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Visits by the Joint Judicial Committee, which helps to identify prisoners and problems being faced by them, have also been affected by the strained bilateral relations.